Re(al)view: ooma VoIP Phone System

Re(al)view: ooma VoIP Phone System

Gregory Han
Jan 15, 2009

Last Friday we got to sit down with Dennis Peng, Vice President of Product Management at ooma to discuss their current and future line of VOIP technology. After several weeks of using a review unit of their current ooma Hub and their online features, we were curious about their upcoming ooma Telo wireless handset and base station, which was unveiled at CES. But we also had some questions in regards to our time with the first generation ooma system, an experience which has shaped our own personal decision about our home telecommunications options...

Looking at hundreds of home electronics products, we're always impressed with a company takes the opportunity to make the whole user experience a pleasurable one. Like Apple, ooma packages their ooma Hub and Scout (think of them as the Batman and Robin of your VOIP experience) in a stylish black box packaging, each snuggly fit inside packaging reminiscent of Cupertino's best. A small detail, but one we appreciated, which also made unpacking and setting up the whole ooma system a trouble free affair no more complicated than setting a DVD player.

The Hub and Scout sport a metal-chic rectangular form factor, with function buttons manufactured to glow/light up accordingly, giving the whole Hub a fine finish reminiscent of the 80's best industrial design (and we mean that in a good Braun-tastic opinion). It certainly looks fine out in the open, with a smart visual cue information system of blue or red lights to tell you if things are a-ok or if you have a connection issue.

A quick overview of the ooma Hub and Scout system: like other VOIP services and systems, ooma allows for unlimited calling to any number in the US, with recognizable home line features such as caller-ID, call-waiting, and voicemail recording. We plugged in our system into a slightly convoluted setup. We're currently Skype subscribers, so our existing phone system was routed into the ooma Hub (without a need for the Scout except for testing). As mentioned before, setup was extremely simple, and we placed our phone call within 10 minutes of unpacking and scanning instructions and registering online. Upon dialing as you'd normally do with a regular landline, the ooma notifies you of your fee-free call with a distinctive ooma chime, quickly dialing and connecting. We've become quite fond of the sound, knowing we're calling gratis.

The voice quality is superb compared to the our Skype system, without the annoying quarter-second delay that mars our conversations via Skype. Hook this up to a DECT handset, and you'll be enjoying landline quality calls with VOIP costs, which is exactly what we plan to do ourselves. Yes, we're so happy with our ooma experience, we're ditching our Skype handset system and moving over to ooma. And you worrying types, note the ooma system allows for a landline backup in case of a power or Internet outage.

There were some small bumps we've experienced with ooma that may or may not effect you. First, Dennis Peng explained why our system's voice mail system was improperly not hanging up after recording messages; older land lines with weak connections may not register with ooma's Hub and fail to disconnect. We've alleviated the problem at the moment with a quick fix, setting up the voice mail to pick up immediately, circumventing the issue. A better solution is to take advantage of ooma's phone number transferral service, a free part of their Premier package (otherwise $39.99), which opens up additional features like a second line, three-way conferencing, a beta multi-ring feature that forwards to your cell phone or other number, message screening, custom ring tones, and personal numbers/voicemail. But the feature we most love (though still in beta) is the personal and community blacklist. Think of this as AdBlock for your phone, with a growing community generated numbers that are actively blocked from ever reaching you. That alone has converted us into ooma believers.

We also had some issues affecting outward calls, but we're attributing this once again to an outside factor (poor internet cable connection...thanks TimeWarner), but highlighting the importance of ooma's landline backup feature.

The final piece of the ooma puzzle is their website, which works as an online extension of the whole system. We've found accessing our voicemails from a bookmarked site is sometimes easier than dialing and picking up a handset. We can review messages, call logs, add numbers to our blacklist, and further configure the ooma system. Dennis said future considerations may include uploadable personalized ring tones and visual caller ID.

While at CES we got a peek at the upcoming ooma Telo, which we wish was readily available now to be honest, since we'd rather purchase a handset with the ooma system instead of a hodge podge of accessories. The ooma Telo offers the same unlimited, free VoIP calling feature as the current hub, but with an updated, more organically shaped base and high-def DECT 6.0 voice handset. There's even a SPAM-filter like trash button which allows for instant hangup and number blocking. Voice quality of this updated unit is incredibly clear (take a listen for yourself from this clip).

The current ooma system is available now for $249.99 (and for less on Amazon) with the ooma Telo offered in possibly three different options: handset with base, base, or add-on handsets. Price range mentioned was from $199-$299

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